Understanding Heat in Australia’s Monsoon Tropics

by | Jun 8, 2017

Australia is well known as a hot country, but how individuals and organizations understand ‘heat’ is surprisingly varied, and is explored in a recent review.

Australia is well known as a hot country, but how individuals and organizations understand ‘heat’ is surprisingly varied. As the authors of a critical review recently published in WIREs Climate Change argue, these specific understandings of heat differ geographically across Australia and across sectors and disciplines.

Oppermann and colleagues are members of the Heat Stress Research Partnership, a collective focused on how heat stress risk is communicated and managed in northern Australia. This research has particular relevance in the tropical monsoon zone where moderate-high ambient temperatures regularly combine with high humidity to produce very uncomfortable and often dangerous conditions for human health.  Their paper, “Heat, Health and Humidity in Australia’s Monsoon Tropics: a critical review of the problematization of ‘heat’ in a changing climate”, draws attention to the often invisible aspects of humidity, exposure and exertion in many accounts of heat. Their project also has broader relevance to the rapidly developing and urbanizing global tropics in the context of a warming planet.

They argue that how heat is understood shapes adaptation practices and outcomes. The presence or absence of the elements of humidity, exertion and exposure in accounts of ‘heat’ produces differently perceived spatial and temporal geographies of danger, which results in different management strategies and tangible differences in how life is lived, where and by whom. The authors strategically review key policy areas including housing, public health and work health and safety to demonstrate how these differences play out, and how they are critical to adaptation to both contemporary and future climate change. In the context of a famously hot continent getting hotter fast, the paper is an attempt to think more precisely about what heat really means and why exactly it matters, to improve the clarity and effectiveness of adaptation strategies.


Contributed by Elspeth Oppermann.

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